The team of educators—of which I was one—and family members piled papers, pens, and highlighters into backpacks and purses. We had just completed an annual Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting, a yearly review of special education services and hallmark of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which guarantees a “free and appropriate public education,” otherwise known as FAPE.

“I always feel like I say too much at these meetings,” a general education teacher confessed. “Y’all probably just kept thinking, when is she going to shut up!”

As the rest of us laughed, a member of our group spoke up, “We need your input, a lot of times, the ‘gen ed’ teacher doesn’t say a word.”

Sadly, it’s true. In many of the IEP meetings I attend, the role of the general education teacher (though a required participant) is an afterthought. The question, “Who can we get to be the ‘gen ed’ representative?” is answered by begging and pleading for someone to come to the meeting.

Why general education teachers are essential for special education

For special education teachers, this scenario is all too familiar. It is a symptom of a broken system that pits the time and resources of special and general education teachers against each other, instead of working together. When it does work, it is magical. The line between “your” students and “my” students is blurred, and teachers are just teachers.

General education teachers typically don’t understand why they are needed for IEP meetings since it is only a special education “thing.” Here is why we need you: You may be the only person who can speak about the grade-level curriculum or the resources that are available to every student in a school. Special education teachers are experts in interventions for learning disabilities and behavior—but not about the school reading program.

That is not the only thing that general education teachers can learn from special education teachers. Here are a few more.